Big 12: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Our Big 12 Mount Rushmore

February, 19, 2014
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LeBron James controversially put, of all things, Mount Rushmore in the news last week by suggesting he would be etched in stone one day among the four best in NBA history.

The James story set off a firestorm of other sports-related Rushmores. NFL Rushmores. IndyCar Rushmores. One site even put together its Mount Rushmore of Pro Bass Fishermen.

Not to be outdone, Brandon and I have put together a Mount Rushmore of Big 12 football players.

For those who slept through social studies, the actual Mount Rushmore includes the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The four were chosen not only because they were famous presidents. They were chosen because they were transformational figures in American history.

Washington won the Revolutionary War. Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. Roosevelt changed American diplomacy.

In keeping with the spirit of the real Mount Rushmore, our Big 12 Rushmore wasn’t just about picking the four best players. It was about picking transformational figures whose impact was far-reaching. And it's just from the Big 12 era (1996-present).

Without further ado, the Big 12 football Mount Rushmore:

Texas QB Vince Young

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Scott Clarke/Getty ImagesVince Young led Texas to its first national championship in 35 years.
Before 2005, Texas was a great program. But it was not an elite one. It had been 35 years since the Longhorns had won a national championship. By contrast, Oklahoma had captured four national titles during that span. Even though coach Mack Brown had turned the Texas program around, the Sooners were still beating in the Longhorns’ heads on the field.

That all changed in 2005, thanks to one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. Young put the Longhorns on his back, and took them all the way to Pasadena, Calif. The Longhorns destroyed everyone, including the Sooners, with Ohio State being the only regular-season opponent to play Texas within 10 points.

Young was even more spectacular in the national title game against USC. The mighty Trojans had no answer for Young, who threw for 267 yards and rushed for 200. And in the closing seconds on fourth down, he dashed past the pylon for the game-winning touchdown.

Young didn’t win the Heisman Trophy (he should have), but he became the first FBS quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season. He also finally lifted Texas over the hump, taking the Longhorns from great to elite.

Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson

Just this month, Oklahoma signed one of the best running backs in the country in California native Joe Mixon. Who is Mixon’s idol? Peterson. Who knows how many recruits the Sooners were able to sign the last decade because of Peterson. The number is substantial.

Peterson arrived in 2004 as the Sooners’ most ballyhooed recruit since Marcus Dupree. Texas wanted Peterson badly. And Peterson actually watched the 2003 Red River Rivalry from the Texas sidelines. But even though Peterson dreamed of playing for the Longhorns growing up, he wanted to win more. Peterson’s signing with Oklahoma added insult to injury to its cross-river rival.

After getting to campus, Peterson put together one of the best freshman seasons ever. He rushed for 1,925 yards, leading the Sooners to the national title game. He also finished second in the Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma against voting for freshmen.

The next two years of Peterson’s career were marred by injuries (even though he still finished with 4,041 career rushing yards). When healthy, he was the single-most dominant force in Big 12 history.

Baylor QB Robert Griffin III

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy and put Baylor back on the map.
Along with his coach Art Briles, Griffin changed the way people thought about Baylor football. He also changed the way Baylor football thought about itself. Before Griffin followed Briles to Waco in 2008, Baylor football was the laughingstock of the Big 12.

The Bears had not enjoyed a single winning season since before the inception of the league, and had lost 85 of 96 Big 12 games. The facilities were a mess and attendance was so poor, the school rolled a tarp over Floyd Casey Stadium's south end zone bleachers.

But by the time Griffin left, the program had been transformed. He brought the school its first Heisman Trophy and just its second 10-win season.

Griffin’s effect can still be felt in the Big 12. His magical season spurred Baylor to secure the funding for an on-campus, $260-million stadium that will open this fall. The Bears have also been a force ever since, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. In the last three months, Baylor captured its first Big 12 title, then nailed down a top-25 recruiting class. Until Griffin came along, that would have been unthinkable in Waco. It’s now the standard.

Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh

There have been some great defensive players to come through the Big 12. None come close to matching Suh, who was one of the most menacing defensive tackles to ever play college football.

In 2009, Suh captured the Outland, Nagurski and Bednarik national awards as the nation’s most outstanding lineman and defensive player. He also became the first defensive Heisman finalist since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.

Spearheaded by Suh, Nebraska also fielded perhaps the greatest defense in Big 12 history. Despite playing in an era of high-flying offenses, the Huskers gave up just 10.4 points per game, the fewest any defense has allowed in Big 12 history.

Facing off against the Big 12’s best offense in the Big 12 championship, Suh and the Huskers imposed their will, and came a controversial call away from toppling the Longhorns. Texas went on to the national championship game, and Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy still finished one spot higher in the Heisman voting than Suh. But in that game, like every other one he played in that season, Suh was the best player on the field.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.

Which Big 12 defector will you miss most?

January, 20, 2012
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In Thursday's post about the Big 12's to-do list, I added a quick line that read a little something like this:

"Truth be told, the Big 12 won't miss Missouri or Texas A&M nearly as bad as it will national power Nebraska."

That's based off Nebraska's fan support, first and foremost, which I still think is unrivaled in the Big 12.

Additionally, there's the winning factor. Nebraska's 43 conference titles and five national championships dwarf Texas A&M's 18 conference titles and one national title. Missouri also has 15 conference titles. Colorado had 26 conference titles and a national title.

A few of you disagreed that Nebraska would be missed most.

So, let's get all scientific* about this. Which team will you miss most?

Maybe it's their stadium. Maybe it's their fans. Maybe its the rivalry. But if you had to pick just one, who would you miss most?

Vote in our poll.

*not actually scientific

Nebraska tried to schedule Boise

September, 9, 2010
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As the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel notes, the week after Boise State's win against Virginia Tech has been full of "Don't like 'em? Beat 'em" talk from supporters of the Broncos national-title cause.

Well, according to Shatel, Nebraska tried.
In the past year, NU tried to put together a series with BSU; two-for-one, home-and-home, one-way trip to Lincoln. Whatever. It ended up fizzling out. Why?

Because, according to NU Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Jamrog, Boise wanted a minimum $1 million to play in Lincoln.

Teams will routinely pay FCS or non-AQ teams six figures to visit for an early season game. It makes no sense to pay seven figures to play a team that has shown it has the capability to beat you. How many more of these stories are out there? Who knows.

Boise's version of what happened isn't in the story, but Shatel tweeted that he's tried in the past.

"I called last year when this came up; AD never called back," Shatel wrote.
Texas led the Big 12 and ranked fourth in the nation with an average attendance of 101,175 during the 2009 season.

The NCAA released football attendance figures today, which you can review here.

The Big 12 ranked third among BCS conferences in attendance with an average of 62,875.

The SEC was No. 1 (76,288) and the Big Ten was second (71,769).

Five Big 12 teams ranked in the top 30: No. 10 Nebraska, No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 28 Missouri.

Three Big 12 teams produced top-30 attendance increases from 2008 to 2009: Oklahoma State (up 5,458, ninth-best increase); Texas (up 3,129, 17th best); and Baylor (up 2,182, 26th best).

Here are the Big 12 figures:

Texas... 101,175
Nebraska... 85,888
Oklahoma... 84,778
Texas A&M... 76,800
Missouri... 64,120
Oklahoma State... 53,719
Kansas... 50,581
Texas Tech... 50,249
Colorado... 50,088
Kansas State... 46,763
Iowa State... 46,242
Baylor... 36,306
Happy Monday. What's happening in the Big 12?

Lost amid the rumors about Texas talking with the Big Ten -- rumors that commissioner Jim Delany dismissed Friday -- were some interesting comments from Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne about the potential of Nebraska joining the league.

Osborne told the Lincoln Journal Star that while he hasn't heard from Delany or entered into any formal talks with another league, he'd listen if the phone rings in the coming weeks. Delany told WSCR radio that the Big Ten is still conducting an internal study that he hopes to complete by late spring or early summer.

"We haven't entered into any formal talks with anybody right now," Osborne said. "We're focusing on the Big 12. But I don’t think that means if somebody wanted to pick up the phone and call us, that we'd hang up on them. You listen."


When a league offers $17 to $20 million per year in television revenue, listening is the smart thing to do.

Nebraska isn't a home-run addition like Texas or Notre Dame, but it would add another traditional power in football to the league. Although the Huskers aren't what they were when Osborne coached, the program clearly is on the rise under Bo Pelini. Nebraska also fits geographically better than Texas, as Lincoln is less than 300 miles from Iowa City. The big drawback would be a small TV market and a state that doesn't produce a ton of FBS players.

Many folks have brought up good points about why Texas wouldn't leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten: rivalries, geography, success in the league, etc. Would the same reasons keep Nebraska in the conference? I'm not so sure. Nebraska hasn't benefited from the Big 12 nearly as much as Texas. Its rivalry with Oklahoma isn't the same as it used to be, and the Big 12's power clearly rests in the South division.

Here's what Osborne had to say:

“I would have to say the center of gravity has moved south. You’d have to say that trend to the south still continues to this day, which is a little concerning sometimes for people in the north part of the Big 12."


Nebraska likely would be much more interested in the Big Ten than Texas. But would the Big Ten want the Huskers? Time will tell.

Instant analysis: Navy 35, Missouri 13

December, 31, 2009
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It was a good day for the service academies as Navy's convincing 35-13 victory over Missouri came on the heels of Air Force's triumph over Houston.

There was nothing fluky about the Midshipmen's victory. Here's how they got it done.

Missouri looked ready to blow Navy out of Reliant Stadium after jumping ahead on the second play from scrimmage on a 58-yard toss from Blaine Gabbert to Danario Alexander. From that point forward, Navy bounced back and allowed the Tigers only a pair of field goals during the rest of the game as they were limited to 298 yards.

[+] EnlargeRicky Dobbs
AP Photo/Dave EinselQuarterback Ricky Dobbs accounted for four of Navy's five touchdowns.
Turning point: After Missouri had pulled within 14-10 at the half, Navy answered with a 58-yard scoring drive to immediately seize momentum. Alexander Teich returned the second half kickoff for 46 yards to spark the drive. Navy converted a fourth-down play and punctuated a drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ricky Dobbs to Bobby Doyle to cap the drive.

Player of the game: Dobbs expertly sliced up the bigger Missouri defense to power the Midshipmen’s upset victory. Dobbs rushed 30 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 130 yards and another score to lead Navy to its first bowl victory since the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl. Dobbs joins Craig Candeto from 2003 as the only Midshipmen to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

Stat of the game: Navy dominated the game in the trenches as they controlled the ball for 40 minutes and 54 seconds. The punishing thrust enabled them to pile up 519 total yards and gash Missouri’s 12th-ranked rush defense for 385 yards in a convincing whipping.

Best call: Navy’s ground-based offensive attack opened up Dobbs’ passing abilities throughout the second half. Dobbs completed all of his second-half passes for 71 yards and a touchdown to help Navy put the game away. The biggest was a 47-yard strike to Marcus Curry on the first play from scrimmage in the fourth quarter that set up the Midshipmen's clinching touchdown.

Second guess: Trailing 21-10, Missouri appeared ready to score and keep the game close later in the third quarter. Missouri’s running game was clicking after accounting for 38 yards on seven previous attempts on the drive. But on third-and-goal from the Navy 2, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert tried a pass and was sacked by Craig Schaefer for a huge 10-yard loss. Missouri got a field goal on the drive, but could have scored a touchdown that would have kept them in the game.

What it means: Navy posted a 10-win season for only the third time in the 129-season history of the program and for the first time since 2004 as they emphatically proved they can play with BCS-level schools. Missouri’s loss put a disappointing conclusion in a game that really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The Tigers need to get more consistency from Gabbert and improvement from a defense that couldn’t seem to adjust to the Midshipmen’s triple-option despite having nearly a month to prepare for the bowl game. With Nebraska loaded for next season, the Tigers will be challenged to maintain pace with them in 2010.

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Big 12 mailbag: Why I flip-flopped to Kansas this week

August, 28, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here's a group of the best letters I received this week. Thanks again to all who contributed.

Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Tim, I love your blogs, especially during the off season reading them religiously. My question is, a few months ago you gave Nebraska the edge over Kansas. Yes you said you reserve the right to change your mind which is totally understandable. But I find it funny how you change your mind on Nebraska winning the North and saying that Kansas will all because of one player leaving Nebraska.

Yes, Quentin Castille was a big feature in Nebraska's offense. However, one player should not make or break a team. Don't count out Roy Helu Jr., who happens to be our STARTING RB. Plus our nasty defensive line that kept pressure on Kansas QB Todd Reesing (who couldn't handle it last year). Could you tell me why one player leaving made you change your mind on a great prediction?

Tim Griffin: I figured I would be answering this question, considering I got it in one form or another from about 40 people this week. Heck, one of my favorite members of the media in Omaha compared me to John Kerry earlier this week because of my late change.

Let me first say that my edge for Nebraska over Kansas wasn't ever that large to start with. I favored Nebraska as much for Kansas' tough cross-divisional schedule as anything else. It's going to be a bear for the Jayhawks to win any of those three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It still will.

But I also think Castille's dismissal will affect the way that Nebraska plays offense. With Castille and Helu, they had the best combination of backs in the North Division. They would be able to dictate the tempo for the Cornhuskers. It would take off pressure from an iffy passing game led by untested junior-college transfer Zac Lee.

Also, Helu is bigger and stronger this season. But he also appears to be more susceptible to muscle pulls - he's already missed a few days of fall practice - and the depth at the position has contracted with Castille's dismissal. They have only other back with college experience as a running back in Marcus Mendoza.

As anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, I have a lot of respect for the job that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson does. He was able to put together an explosive offense in Colorado for the Buffaloes' 2001 Big 12 championship that was remarkably like this Nebraska team. He had journeyman quarterbacks in Bobby Pesavento and Craig Ochs, a three-pronged rushing attack in Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson and a stud tight end (to borrow a description from Bo Pelini) in Daniel Graham. The Cornhuskers were similar when Helu and Castille were both on the roster and the five-headed monster they have a tight end probably comes close to matching what Graham meant to the Buffaloes.

But this conference is a lot different in 2009 than it was in 2001. You're going to need to score points in bunches to win. And I think the Cornhuskers need some help at wide receiver to be more explosive to boost the contributions of Menelik Holt, Niles Paul and the rest.

The Cornhusker defense will be just as fearsome as before. Their defensive line might be the conference's best this side of Oklahoma. But losing Castille will tweak how they are able to play offense. And it will make things more difficult for Watson to control games with his young inexperienced quarterback and his lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.

It might only mean one game during the course of the season. But as close as I figure the North to be, the Cornhuskers will need that game at the end of the season.


Jamie Cabela of Midland, Texas, writes: Tim, quick question for you. Who is going to be your surprise player in the Big 12 this season?

Tim Griffin: I'll actually go with two of them. My first will be Markques Simas of Colorado, once he is eligible. I think he's got a great opportunity to become a top receiver immediately for the Buffaloes. And my other choice will Missouri freshman tailback Kendial Lawrence. I've heard some good things about him, even if he is third-string on the Tigers' roster. Look for him to contribute for the Tigers as the season goes on.


Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Ignoring the good, competitive games for a minute, which of the "cupcakes" has a chance to pull off an upset against the Big 12 teams in the first two weeks of the season? Any at all? Thanks for your insight.

Tim Griffin: Jim, I don't know exactly what your definition of a cupcake would be, but I'm going to presume you mean a school from outside the BCS-affiliated conferences.

If that's the case, don't look for anything in the first week of the season. But it wouldn't surprise me if two Big 12 teams have troubles in the second week of the season in road games.

I think Kansas State might be tested at Louisiana-Lafayette. I saw a Texas A&M team lose there in 1996 and weird things can happen down at "The Swamp" for unintiated teams that aren't prepared. Also keep an eye on Kansas' trip to UTEP on the same date. The Jayhawks have lost three-straight non-conference regular-season road games. They haven't won a non-conference road game during the regular season since beating Wyoming in 2003. And I think UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe might provide the Kansas defense with some problems.


Matt Strohm from Parkersburg, Iowa, writes: Tim, with the start of the season only eight days away, I was wondering if you would rank all the Big 12 schools in terms of team entrances.

Tim Griffin: Matt, I don't think I can do justice to them all, but I'll give you a few of my favorites.

Let me say that I'm not usually all that enraptured by the cookie-cutter entrances around college football these days. It reminds me of something you might see in the NBA.

But there's still something about the Nebraska Tunnel Walk that gets me pumped up, although the ones used at the end of the Callahan tenure were pretty lame. I also like the "Running of the Bulls" in Austin for Texas games and the "There's Only One Oklahoma " video that plays at Owen Field before Sooner games.

But for sheer intimidation factor, my all-time favorite still has to be the old-school Iowa entrance when the Hawkeyes used to take the field in a slow walk while holding hands when they were coached by Hayden Fry. I could only imagine what that would look like for an opposing team on the other side of the field.


David L. Stoudt writes: I'm glad that the Pac-10 officials have deemed "San Antonio a marvelous post-season destination and the Valero Alamo Bowl as one of the nation's elite bowl games."

But I'm wondering did anyone consider asking the fans where they'd rather go. We love heading south to San Diego every year for a fantastic bowl matchup. Who in Hades wants to go to San Antonio in December?

I think this is a huge mistake in judgment and we won't b
e attending those games, regardless of who's playing.

Tim Griffin: I'm also curious about how this affiliation switch will change the dynamics of the Big 12's bowls.

It sounds like the Holiday Bowl's matchup basically will be switching to San Antonio and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Those Holiday Bowls have always been exciting, high-offense games. I think the Pac-10/Big 12 matchup is a good one because both conferences have reputations for offensive football. You see those kind of games in bowls anyway, but I think this makes it even more attractive with those two conferences involved.

It's going to be interesting because the Pac-10 always had a homefield advantage in San Diego. This will switch over when the game moves to the Alamo City.

I realize I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, but I suggest coming to San Antonio before you make any snap judgments. But I suggest that you take a walk through Southtown. Try the carne guisada tacos with cheese at Taco Haven once or sip a margarita at Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk and tell me that San Antonio isn't a good place for a bowl game.

I'll bet you'll come back with a different answer.


(Read full post)

Curious Big 12 factoids to start the week

August, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin Want to impress your friends with some arcane Big 12 trivia? Have I got a couple of links for you.  How long has it been since Iowa State returned a kickoff for a touchdown in a home game? The correct answer would be nearly 33 years. The last time an Iowa State player thrilled the home crowd with a touchdown kickoff return was Luther Blue's 95-yarder against Nebraska on Nov. 13, 1976. As of Monday, that streak stretches 11,972 days. The chances that streak could be broken are good this season, considerting that Leonard Johnson is back returning kicks for Iowa State. If he can take one to the house against North Dakota State in the Sept. 3 opener or early in the season, the Cyclones could break the streak before it reaches 12,000 days. "What Leonard did as a kick returner last year encourages you," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads told the Des Moines Register. "Special teams have the ability to win or lose football games. "Having Leonard back there certainly gives us a chance to advance the program in that regard." Considering Rhoads was only 9 years old the last time a Cyclone broke a kickoff at Jack Trice Stadium, I'm sure he thinks it was too waaaaay too long. Oklahoma has never won a game on a last-second field goal during the Bob Stoops coaching tenure at the school. Stoops' 133-game Oklahoma coaching history has been marked by only five games that were decided late in the game on kicks, according to the Oklahoman. Here's a list of those last-second games for Stoops' teams. Sept. 29, 2007: Colorado 27, Oklahoma 24 Colorado's Kevin Eberhart hits a 45-yarder as time expired in Boulder to stun the No. 3 Sooners. Sept. 16, 2006: Oregon 34, Oklahoma 33 Garrett Hartley's 44-yard kick on the final play of the game is blocked, preserving Oregon's controversial victory over the Sooners. Oct. 30, 2004: Oklahoma 38, Oklahoma State 35 Oklahoma State's Jason Ricks misses a 49-yarder wide left with 11 seconds left that would have sent 2004's Bedlam game into overtime. Dec. 2, 2000: Oklahoma 27, Kansas State 24 (Big 12 title game) Tim Duncan's second field goal of the game, a 46-yarder with 1:25 left, provided Oklahoma with the winning points for Stoops' first Big 12 title. The kick gave the Sooners a 10-point lead and Kansas State scored a touchdown in the game's final seconds.    Dec. 31, 1999: Mississippi 27, Oklahoma 25 (Independence Bowl) Mississippi kicker Les Binkley hits a 39-yarder to beat the Sooners on the final play in the last game of the century. Stoops hasn't had to rely on the pixie dust of "Sooner Magic," yet. But I'm sure he's hoping to be able to conjure up the mystical potion when he needs it, just like his Oklahoma coaching predecessors before him.

Henery finally gets his Nebraska scholarship

August, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin It's been a long time in coming, but Nebraska coach Bo Pelini rewarded the player who might be the most deserving walk-on with a scholarship after a strong season of production. Kicker/punter Alex Henery was among the six Cornhusker walk-on players who have been added to the school's scholarship list, Pelini announced after practice on Saturday. Other Cornhuskers who were put on scholarship include senior wide receiver Wes Cammack, senior linebacker Colton Koehler, senior offensive lineman Derek Meyer, junior tight end Dreu Young and sophomore center Mike Caputo. "It shows that if you come in here and you do the right things, for the football team and yourself, you have a good chance of being rewarded for your efforts," Pelini told reporters after Saturday's practice. "That shows with those six young men.'' The most obvious was Henery, who arguably was one of the most valuable Cornhuskers last season. His dramatic school-record 57-yard field goal against Colorado -- one of four in a 40-31 triumph over the Buffaloes -- helped boost the Cornhuskers into the Gator Bowl. Henery then added four field goals in the bowl game, providing the margin of victory in a 26-21 triumph over Clemson. It capped a season when he converted 26 of 29 field goals. Koehler produced 16 tackles in seven games last season. Young snagged nine passes. And Cammack has been a key producer for the Cornhuskers on special teams each of the past two seasons. Meyer, a recent transfer from Kansas State, and Caputo both are in the two-deep for the Huskers' offensive line. "This is a great group of guys and it is great to be able to have the ability to recognize their contributions by placing them on scholarship," Pelini said. "Each of those guys has shown a great commitment to our football program, and they do things the right way on and off the field."

Which Big 12 school has produced the most starting NFL QBs?

August, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin There was an outstanding piece of research that appeared over the weekend in the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror that set out to ascertain a question that has been vexing over the years. Namely, which college deserves the title of "Quarterback U" for its proficiency in producing college players who eventually started games in the NFL? The findings were very interesting, particularly in terms of which schools have produced starting NFL quarterbacks and which ones have not in the modern era, starting with the 1966 season. Purdue earns an argument in the "Quarterback U" debate because its alums have started more NFL games (704) than any other school. Also, Purdue is the only school to have four quarterbacks start at least 100 games (Jim Everett, Len Dawson, Drew Brees and Bob Griese). USC leads the list with 15 quarterbacks who have started at least one game, followed by Notre Dame (13) and Washington (12). The Big 12, with its previous tradition of ground-based offenses in the old Big Eight and Southwest conferences, struggles mightily in this comparison. Here's the list of Big 12 schools and their starting quarterbacks. In a way, the numbers are a little skewed because it credits the starts of former college quarterbacks like Colorado's Kordell Stewart and Missouri's Brad Smith. Both have gone on to pro careers at positions other than quarterback. Here's how the Altoona Mirror stacks up the Big 12 programs in terms of starting quarterbacks and NFL starts. Kansas State (249 games, four starters): Steve Grogan 135, Lynn Dickey 111, Dennis Morrison 2, Dan Manucci 1. Kansas (190 games, three starters): John Hadl 135, Bobby Douglass 53, Frank Seurer 2. Colorado (95 games, two starters): Kordell Stewart 87, Koy Detmer 8. Nebraska (79 games, six starters): Vince Ferragamo 53, Jerry Tagge 12, Bruce Mathison 9, Dennis Claridge 3, David Humm 1, Terry Luck 1. Iowa State (52 games, four starters): David Archer 23, Sage Rosenfels 12, Seneca Wallace 12, Tim Van Galder 5. Texas Tech (47 games, one starter): Billy Joe Tolliver 47. Baylor (45 games, five starters): Cody Carlson 19, Don Trull 15, Buddy Humphrey 5, Cotton Davidson 4, Brad Goebel 2. Texas (44 games, two starters): Vince Young 29, Chris Simms 15. Missouri (18 games, three starters): Brad Smith 13, Steve Pisarkiewicz 4, Gary Lane 1. Texas A&M (16 games, three starters): Edd Hargett 7, Gary Kubiak 5, Bucky Richardson 4. Oklahoma State (14 games, one starter): Rusty Hilger 14. Oklahoma (no games, no starters). The study also credits a quarterback with where he finished school rather than started. So, Troy Aikman is considered to have attended UCLA rather than Oklahoma. As the story points out, it's interesting that a Division II program like Texas A&M-Commerce has been able to turn out three starters -- more than traditional powers Texas and Oklahoma combined. The Big 12's recent ascension as the nation's foremost passing conference will help change these statistics quickly in a few years. Because I'm thinking quarterbacks like Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin and maybe even Austen Arnaud or Zac Robinson will get their shot in the NFL one of these days.

Factoids about Big 12 teams and their preseason AP rankings

August, 22, 2009
8/22/09
7:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

As promised, here are a few tidbits about the Big 12 teams that were ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll released earlier today.

Texas: Ranked at No.2, the Longhorns return to the top 10 after starting the season No. 11 last season. It's the Longhorns highest ranking since starting the 2005 season in the second slot. As all Longhorns' fans remember, that was the last time that Texas won the national championship.

Texas' 2009 ranking also represents the ninth time in the last 10 seasons that Texas started the season in the top 10. And it also extends the Longhorns' current streak of being ranked in preseason polls to 11 -- longest in school history.

Oklahoma: The Sooners' No. 3 ranking is their highest in the preseason since checking in at No. 2 in 2004. It's also their ninth-straight season in the preseason top 10. The last time the Sooners weren't in the top 10 in the preseason was in 2000, when they were 19th. And as all Sooner fans remember, that was the season they won their last national championship.

Oklahoma State: Tied for ninth with Penn State, the Cowboys have their highest preseason ranking in school history. Their previous high came in 1985 when they were ranked 16th. It is the first time the Cowboys have been ranked in the preseason since 2003.

Nebraska: Checking in at No. 24, the Cornhuskers are ranked in the poll for the first time since 2007, when they were ranked 20th. The Cornhuskers had a record among Big 12 teams with a string of 33-straight seasons when they were ranked in the preseason top 25 from 1970 through 2002.

Kansas: The Jayhawks are ranked No. 25, marking the second-straight season they have been ranked to start the season. It marks the first time in school history that Kansas has been ranked in the preseason in back-to-back seasons.

And here's a list I came up with for Big 12 teams and the last time they were ranked in the preseason AP poll, or their streak of consecutive AP preseason rankings:

  • Texas: 11 straight rankings
  • Oklahoma: 10 straight rankings
  • Kansas: 2 straight rankings
  • Nebraska: 1 straight ranking
  • Oklahoma State: 1 straight ranking
  • Missouri: Last ranked in 2008 preseason poll
  • Texas Tech: Last ranked in 2008 preseason poll
  • Texas A&M: Last ranked in 2007 preseason poll
  • Kansas State: Last ranked in 2004 preseason poll
  • Colorado: Last ranked in 2002 preseason poll
  • Baylor: Last ranked in 1986 preseason poll
  • Iowa State: Last ranked in 1978 preseason poll

Castille's departure could be huge loss for Cornhuskers

August, 22, 2009
8/22/09
6:24
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The announcement earlier today by Nebraska coach Bo Pelini that junior I-back Quentin Castille was kicked off the team sent shock waves shooting through the Nebraska program.

The move is potentially very big for the Cornhuskers.

Castille had come on strongly late in his freshman season and was expected to be a big contributor for Nebraska this season. While I doubt he would have beaten out Roy Helu Jr. for the starting job, Castille still would have provided depth and accentuated the team's biggest offensive strength.

It wasn't out of realm of possibility that Castille could have provided 700 or 800 yards from his back-up position. And his departure places further pressure on untested Nebraska starting quarterback Zac Lee.

Castille had been a headache for Pelini in terms of discipline problems throughout his time at Nebraska. He left the program for several weeks earlier in the summer and returned to his home in Texas, professing that the move had made him ready to play under Pelini's rules when he returned.

Also, an arrest warrant was issued for Castille earlier this year after he failed to appear in court on traffic violations. He was later fined for a missing license plate.

"It's pretty black and white, my expectations and what we lay out as a staff," Pelini told reporters when he made the announcement. "And if someone doesn't follow those policies and guidelines, they're no longer going to be with the football team. And that's the case with Quentin."

His departure means there's an immediate opening behind Helu as the Cornhuskers' No. 2 I-back. Freshman Rex Burkhead has looked good in early practices and will inherit the role.

Austin Jones, Dontrayevous Robinson, Lester Ward and Collins Okafor all will be in the mix at running back. None of the backs behind Helu have a carry at the college level.

Also, look for Marcus Mendoza to immediately surface back in the mix at running back after spending the previous time at camp at wide receiver in a move that Pelini claimed was unrelated to Castille's ouster.

"We were moving Marcus back there anyway," Pelini said. "It was more of his choice."

Now, he's got a shot at immediate playing time in the Huskers' backfield -- along with a lot of other players.

Five Big 12 teams ranked in AP's preseason Top 25

August, 22, 2009
8/22/09
11:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There weren't many surprises when the Associated Press released its media poll earlier this morning with five Big 12 teams ranked in its Top 25

Texas is ranked second and Oklahoma third behind defending national champion Florida.

Oklahoma State is tied for ninth, Nebraska returns to the Top 25 at No. 24 and Kansas is ranked No. 25.

It marks the sixth time in the conference's history that five Big 12 teams have been ranked in the AP's preseason poll. The other years were in 2008, 2002, 2000, 1999 and 1996.

Two other Big 12 teams received votes. Texas Tech was ranked 31st and Missouri was tied for 45th.

We've got an ESPN Power Poll which I think will rank right up there with the AP poll. I've always thought the media poll is a little bit more credible than the coaches' poill, mainly because I know that we media members didn't have any sports information directors or football operations directors either voting for us or helping us with our picks. And also, the polls are public record each week at the AP's Web site. I don't see the coaches doing that. And it's their loss.  

I'll be back later today with some factoids about each team and their preseason polling histories.

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